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In Khya’s world, every breath is a battle.
On the isolated desert island of Shiara, dying young is inevitable. The clan comes before self, and protecting her home means Khya is a warrior above all else.
But when following the clan and obeying their leaders could cost her brother his life, Khya's home becomes a deadly trap. The only person who can help is Tessen, her lifelong rival and the boy who challenges her at every turn. The council she hoped to join has betrayed her, and their secrets, hundreds of years deep, reach around a world she's never seen.
To save her brother’s life and her island home, her only choice is to trust Tessen, turn against her clan, and go on the runa betrayal and a death sentence.
The Ryogan Chronicles are best enjoyed in order.
Book #1 Island of Exiles
Book #2 Sea of Strangers
Book #3 War of Storms
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Island of Exiles
The Ryogan Chronicles
By Erica Cameron, Kate Brauning
Entangled Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2017 Erica Cameron
All rights reserved.
I press as close as possible to the sandstone wall of the ravine, trying to shove my whole body into the narrow strip of shade on the rising slope. A few feet below, Rai does the same, pulling the canteen of water from the pack strapped to her thigh, loosening the atakafu cloth covering her mouth and nose, and sipping slowly. The sight makes my mouth feel drier than ever.
My hand falls to my own thigh pack, and I toy with the ties holding it shut. There isn't much water left in my canteen, and I don't know how much longer we'll be enduring the brutal, dehydrating heat of the desert sun. The hunt has been longer than we expected and far trickier than it should be.
Pulling my hand away from the temptation, I search the path above us for any sign of our prey. There isn't anywhere else the teegras could have gone once they entered the ravine, but we haven't spotted a single trace of them since — Wait. There.
"Rai, look." My murmured words are muffled by the atakafu, but it's enough to draw her attention to fresh claw marks on the red sandstone.
She's already put the waterskin away, so she lifts the atakafu back over her nose and cautiously climbs until she can see the marks for herself. The corners of her round eyes crinkle with a grin as we cautiously hike up the steep ravine, moving as silently and steadily as we can.
We've barely gone thirty feet when the wind shifts. The gust presses my tunic tight against my body and nearly rips my hood off, but that's not what makes my pulse falter.
The desosa, the elemental energy in the air, has sharpened. It's carrying the tingling burn of electricity, but this is the wrong season for a typhoon. The first storms shouldn't hit for another moon.
"Do you feel that?" I don't look at Rai, keeping my eyes on the sky instead.
"No. What — Khya!" She tries to grab my ankle when I turn away from the narrow path; I pull myself up the wall of the ravine instead. "What are you doing?"
"Trying to figure out why the desosa just changed." Shifting my weight and ignoring a sharp rock that cuts into my bare feet, I look for a handhold that will get me to the top of this wall. I need to see the horizon.
"Rotten, obstinate, idiotic desosa mages," Rai grumbles as she follows me up the wall.
"You're a desosa mage." She's a kasaiji; she uses the ambient energy surrounding us for her fire magic just as much as I use it for my wards.
Rai grunts. "You know I can't feel it like you can."
"Then you'll have to shut up and trust me, won't you?" I place my feet carefully to avoid disturbing loose rocks. If the teegras are closer than we think, attracting their attention could be deadly. Those vicious scaled cats are a danger only for my squad. If I'm right, what's rolling in off the northern sea will threaten every man, woman, ebet, and child in the city. It'll threaten Yorri.
Testing the scents in the air is always harder through the filter of the atakafu, but I breathe anyway. On the wind, there's a heavy scent of salt and brine.
We're too far inland for the smell of the ocean to be this strong.
Miriseh save us. Even the briefest of storms will flood the area in minutes. Trapped here, the high walls of the ravine mean death.
At the narrow ledge near the top of the rock wall, the wind tugs at my hood and flattens the bottom of my tunic against my thighs. I stay low and pull Rai up after me.
"Why are we risking making ourselves dinner?" Sunlight glints off the iron blade of the tudo strapped to Rai's back, and it brings out the rich red undertone to her brown eyes. Before I can answer, her head snaps up, her gaze pointed north. "Oh."
Bellows and blood, I wish I had been wrong.
The barren plain is drenched in light, soaking up the heat from the sun and releasing it in waves that distort my vision. At high noon, there should be at least one pack of teegras roaming, their red scales glowing like embers. There should be colonies of mykyn circling above us, too, waiting to pick the bones of the teegras' abandoned kills.
The expanse is empty. The animals have dug deep into their dens or hidden in their caves by now, fleeing the coal-black clouds about to make landfall.
"Bellows," Rai breathes. "It's too early for a typhoon."
The desosa's needling prickle flares, cutting enough to make me flinch. A bolt of blue-white lightning rips the dark mass of clouds in half. The thunderclap that follows is distant, a sound I feel more than hear. Despite layers of cloth and padded armor, the hairs on my neck and arms rise.
This storm will rip apart everything in its path.
"We need to find the others." I'm glad Yorri hasn't earned the right to train outside the city. My younger brother is safer inside Sagen sy Itagami. Only the city's tall, thick walls and the network of caves underneath it will protect us from this.
If we can reach it in time.
No. Not getting back to the city alive — back to Yorri alive — isn't an option.
Rai lowers herself over the ledge and reverses the climb. I slide down with far less care, my bare hands and feet gathering scratches and scrapes, and Rai does the same before pushing away from the wall six feet above the floor of the ravine. As soon as our feet hit solid ground, we run, cutting through the maze of trenches and boulders toward the rendezvous point.
The gusts are almost strong enough to lift my feet from the ground, but running with the wind gives us the speed we need.
When we turn into a narrow pass, the gale comes at us crosswise, sending my loose hood flapping. I keep my feet. Rai grunts when her shoulder slams into a solid wall. She recovers but falls behind, more careful now.
I push faster.
Ahead is the mouth of the wider canyon, the red-and-gray rock walls almost a hundred feet high — our rendezvous point. Nyshin-ma Tyrroh is there with Nyshin-pa Daitsa, his second-in-command, and Nyshin-ten Ryzo, the command trainee a breath away from a promotion. Tyrroh tenses as soon as he spots me. I yank the atakafu away from my mouth.
"Storm!" I call. Protected from the gusting wind and unable to see the ocean, neither one of them could have noticed the impending danger yet. "Typhoon from the north."
Tyrroh pulls a horn from his belt, brings it to his lips, and blows three quick blasts. When Rai and I reach Tyrroh, pausing for breath just off Ryzo's broad shoulders, I search the horizon for the return of the others.
I can't keep still.
We have to wait for the rest of the squad, but the longer it takes for them to return, the more likely it is we'll all be caught by the typhoon. I shift from foot to foot. I itch to run. To fight. The brine-laden wind blasts into the canyon, heightening the sting of the desosa. It pelts the edges of my mind like hail. Drawing in power that unstable is risky. I have a tudo blade strapped to my back, but what good is a blade against wind?
Nyshin-ma Tyrroh eyes the horizon like an enemy he has to defeat. A ravine may be the deadliest place to get caught, but the open plain between the Kyiwa Mountains and the Itagami mesa won't be much safer. We're several miles away from the city, and the clouds loom closer every second.
Animals can be outsmarted. Enemies can be fought. Storms can only be survived.
Even the strongest mages and fighters in the clan are helpless in the face of a storm, and I hate that. I hate the fear chilling my skin and clouding my thoughts, and I hate that I can see all of those fears reflected in Nyshin-ma Tyrroh's eyes. "Go now, Khya. Take Rai and run."
I look toward Itagami. That way lies safety, and leaving now might get me there before the worst of the storm strikes. Staying, though ... If the desosa remains this sharp, this dangerously electric, it'll be stupidly risky to channel that power into my wards.
It'd be safer for Rai to make it back to the city before the storm hits, but it doesn't matter, because she won't go back alone. She definitely won't go back without Etaro. Risk or no, neither of us will abandon our squad if there's a chance we can help protect them.
The safety of the clan comes before our lives.
Yorri is one of the only people I'd ignore that conviction for, though Rai and Etaro are tied for second, but running ahead to get back to Itagami first won't make it any more likely that I'll arrive alive. My best chance is with the squad, and their best chance is with me.
I shove my panic aside, squaring my shoulders and planting my feet. "I'm not leaving you all behind."
Tyrroh has been my commanding officer for more than a year. This is the first time I've dared disobey an order. He nods once, his dark eyes crinkling at the corners like they do when he smiles. That smile falls as the other six squad members appear over the rise. I fix my hood and reknot my atakafu to keep it in place over my mouth. As they approach at a run, I ready my wards; the invisible shield won't save us from the wind, but it may at least keep us from literally losing our heads to a barreling piece of debris.
Nyshin-ma Tyrroh barks orders, and the squad forms a tight column behind Rai and me. When we move, we move fast.
The first mile is protected by a narrow canyon, then the south wall tapers off to nothing. As the blasts of wind grow stronger, I watch the air as much as the ground, ready to deflect rocks carried by the currents of air. Soon — too soon — we have to turn east and leave the shelter of the high stone walls.
Each step becomes a battle. There's still daylight, but the normal blinding brightness of the desert at noon is gone. The storm will have swallowed the sun by the time we reach the narrow, winding path up to Itagami's gates. Even in daylight, that path is treacherous. But in the dark while fighting the wind?
I dig my feet into the hard-packed ground and push faster.
Someone shouts, but it's distant over the rush of the wind. How far back have they fallen? I look. Tyrroh is dragging Etaro up until ey is on eir feet again.
My stomach flips when Etaro cradles eir arm. Did I miss a piece of debris? I pay more attention to the sky, but I don't stop running. I might've been able to prevent whatever struck Etaro, but nothing I'm capable of will help the ebet now.
The Itagami mesa is dead ahead of us, and the fires in the watchtowers are beacons guiding us home. It's a safe haven that the Miriseh carved out of the rock for our ancestors, but it's too far away to do us any good.
The clouds are almost over our heads when the desosa flares again, the power so electrified by the storm that it nearly burns me. So electrified that it nearly burns cold.
Blood and rot. I've felt this before.
Years ago, Yorri and I stood on the north wall of the city to watch a storm, the wind whipping our skin like a lash. An arc of lightning had streaked through the sky, striking the exterior wall not twenty feet from where we stood.
It's happening again. Siphoning as much of the dangerously strong desosa into myself as I can bear, I bring up my wards and dive for Rai.
Miriseh, bless me; I hope this works.
Lightning tears through the sky, the flash sunlight-bright. It strikes exactly where we'd been standing. Even warded, the heat is like standing inside a forge. It's agonizing. Almost too much. I bite back a scream and grit my teeth, pulling in more of the unstable desosa to reinforce the magic.
Never draw power from unstable desosa. You'll burn out. Overload. Die.
My training master's warnings roar through my mind.
Too late. I've already ignored them all.
The lightning disappears, leaving only the rumbling, echoing thunderclap behind. My vision is washed out in red-tinged white light. I lose hold of the desosa. My wards drop.
Hands wrap around my shoulders. Someone hauls me to my feet.
"Move!" Tyrroh orders, gripping me by the waist and keeping me upright when my knees buckle. Two of the others do the same for Rai, pulling her forward.
I did it. She's fine. We're both okay.
A deep breath is barely enough to clear my head, but I manage to find my stride again.
We've almost reached the bottom of the path to the city's gates when the clouds unburden themselves on the sunbaked desert of Shiara. Sheets of water drench us to the skin as we run up the winding path cut into the sandstone.
The higher we rise, the stronger the wind gets. My hood fills with air and flies back off my head, pulling so hard it chokes me. Someone almost goes flying off the ledge. Rai tows them back just in time. I tuck my hood into my tunic as I press against the wall, moving as quickly as I can while hugging the stone.
The wet rock is slick under our feet. I slip, catching myself on the cliff. Wind rips strands of my dark hair from the twin braids keeping it tight to my scalp. Pieces stick to my forehead and cover my eyes. I wipe them back and keep moving.
Two hundred yards to safety.
Someone else gets too close to the edge. The gale rips them into thin air, but Ryzo catches their wrist.
One hundred yards.
All the muscles in my legs burn. Rai falls. Tyrroh barely catches her tunic in time to save her.
Ever-more-frequent lightning strikes light up the path, gleaming off Itagami's iron gate. The guards at the gate are shouting. Though the words are lost, the message is clear: Run, run, run.
I sprint, diving under the protection of the wide stone archway. As soon as the last of the squad is inside, the guards heave the massively heavy iron doors shut. The gate's groaning protests are lost to the storm, but the thud of it locking reverberates through my chest.
Miriseh bless it, we made it back alive.
Laughter bubbles up from my chest, relief leaving me light-headed and exertion leaving me too weak to stuff it away. Closing my eyes, I collapse against the wall of the archway until I can trust my unsteady legs to support me.
Stepping into the open, I pull my atakafu away from my mouth and turn my face to the sky, opening my mouth and swallowing as much cool, fresh water as I can. If we're lucky, this will replenish all of the pools in the underground caverns. Off-season rain is so rare that even the shortest of unexpected droughts leaves us teetering on the knife's edge. This storm might've nearly killed us, but it also might give Sagen sy Itagami enough water for us to survive another half a year.
"Ryzo! Get Etaro to Hishingu Hall for healing. Everyone else retreat to the undercity," Tyrroh bellows. I watch Ryzo help Etaro into the city, biting my lip. I should have been paying more attention. If I'd been faster, more alert, Etaro wouldn't have gotten hurt.
I jump, yanking my attention away from Etaro, and follow the squad.
The undercity is so massive I've gotten lost in its network of caves more than once, but Itagami couldn't survive without it. Partly because of things like the iron and crystal mines, the mushroom farms, the bathing pools, and the small spring of fresh water. Mostly, though, it's because of days like today. The undercity is our escape when a tornado, a typhoon, or a dust storm tears across the desert. Wind may keen and wail as it whips through the crevasses in the rocks, but the damage can't reach us here. We're safe.
As safe as we can ever be.
When we reach the caves, I turn toward Yorri's usual hiding spot. Rai stepping into my peripheral vision stops me. Her hand is raised to silently ask permission to touch, and she's staring at me with bone-deep relief in her expression. Water drips over her round face and into her eyes, but she doesn't seem to notice it. The fingers of her raised hand twitch and I nod. Only then does she place her hand on my shoulder.
"Thank you, Khya." She pulls me into a hug, and I don't have the strength to fight the embrace. I don't want to, either. If I had been but a hair slower, that strike would have left blood burned into the scorch mark the lightning left behind.
"Don't stand in the way of lightning." I hope it sounds like a joke and not a plea, but I don't know what I'd do without her. Rai and Etaro are the only reasons I don't drive myself to distraction during most of our long shifts on the wall. Clearing my throat, I disengage from her clinging hug. "Next time I might not be there to ward you."
Excerpted from Island of Exiles by Erica Cameron, Kate Brauning. Copyright © 2017 Erica Cameron. Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
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